In my career as a Hollywood stuntman, it’s paid dividends to remain fit and strong physically.
However, it is only in more recent years that I have come to value the power of mental strength, and realised the vast power of a sharp, focused and strong mind.
I’m sure you know the benefits of lifting weights, whether you choose to do so or not.
Imagine lifting a heavy dumbbell with your right arm every other day, while leaving your left arm in your pocket. Within 6 weeks you’d be sporting a bulging right bicep, while your left bicep would be weak by comparison.
In the same way, we can choose to strengthen our minds, to become more and more powerful in the creation of our perfect lives.
In my book, “Seven Paths to Freedom”, I give numerous exercises aimed at improving ones creative faculties, and explain the importance of repeating these exercises every day for at least 30 days. Let me give you a sample from the book to explain why…
“It has to do with the brain’s method of creating neural pathways – which it does whenever we learn a new skill. If you break the daily habit for just one day, the whole 25 to 30 day process starts all over again.
This was brilliantly illustrated in an early NASA test, when a number of trainee astronauts were asked to wear special ‘image inverting’ glasses for 24 hours a day. The glasses had lenses in them that inverted the image they saw.
Their worlds were, quite literally, turned upside down.
The idea was to study the psychological effects on the trainee astronauts to see how they coped with the tremendous stress and anxiety of an inverted world. After about 28 days, something happened that no one expected. It caught the NASA scientists completely off guard.
One by one, each of the trainee astronauts woke up wearing the glasses to find they were looking at the world the ‘right way up’! Their brains had rewired to alter the way they dealt with the light entering their eyeballs.
Despite the glasses inverting everything they saw, their brains flipped the image 180 degrees so they could function normally again! One by one, each of the astronauts reported the same phenomenon over the next couple of days, so that by the 30th day, all of them could see properly.
Dumbfounded, NASA repeated the tests on fresh subjects, only they split tested the guinea pigs. All subjects wore the same image inverting glasses for 24 hours a day for a whole month, only this time
half of them removed their glasses on Day 14 for a few hours.
For the group that kept them on for a month, their brains altered the image within 25 to 30 days. For the group who removed their glasses for a few hours on Day 14, it took a further 25 to 30 days before their brains reversed the image entering their eyes.
The experiment has been repeated often, and every time it proves conclusively that our brains take 25 to 30 days to form a new habit – about the time it takes for the full moon to form from a new moon”
So, I’m referring to the actual neural pathways becoming hard wired into your brain – and the beginnings of a new habit forming, a new way of thinking that strengthens the more you maintain that way of thinking.
In the same way that negative traits can be hard wired – drinking, smoking, and gambling to name a few, so we can purposely introduce daily exercises that will improve our lives.
One such exercise would be visualisation. Mental rehearsal.
I’ve become highly proficient at this over the last 16 years as an actor and stunt performer in lots of films and TV shows. Whether it’s lines of dialogue, physical stunts or both – mental rehearsal is crucial.
With practise, it’s possible to close your eyes and imagine the future, as if it were here now. In my case, I would imagine the scene in every detail, I would see, hear, taste, smell, touch – I would FEEL everything about that mental rehearsal as if it were real.
By the time the cameras rolled, the scene went perfectly time after time, because of the countless mental rehearsals that went before the actual rehearsals.
I was to discover a little later in my life, after an amazing career in film and television, and after realising so many dreams from international travel to record breaking endeavours, that the same mental rehearsal is a crucial step in creating the life of your dreams. It is the key to achieving any dream, to bringing your dreams into reality.
My book delves much deeper into this subject matter, as do my other blogs, but for the purposes of this particular blog on mental strength, please allow me to make a suggestion.
Try to take just 5 minutes each day for the next few weeks, to imagine something simple that you’d like to appear in your life very soon. This could be as simple as speaking to or bumping into an old friend, or about eating in a favourite restaurant you’ve not visited for a long time. Let’s not go straight for the mansion and private jet just yet!
I’d like you to find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted, switch off your phones, and just sit quietly, trying to imagine that desire, that scene, as if it were already happening. If you struggle to visualise at first, try reaching out in your minds eye to touch your surrounds, or listen to your environment, whatever feels right.
If you do this every day, you will begin to find it easier within the week. Within a fortnight, you will become quite adept. By the time the 30 days is up, you’ll find it relatively easy, because those neural pathways are firing strongly now, a connection in the brain has been formed.
You might also be surprised to find, that the thing you’ve been thinking about for the last 30 days, has come to pass! If it hasn’t – it’s very close to arrival, so keep visualising the experience until it arrives – it will arrive.
This occurs for numerous reasons, both in the physical brain becoming trained to filter in a certain way, and in the subconscious mind in directing energy and facilitating intuitive suggestion to bring about your desires. It’s a fascinating subject too vast to cover in a short blog, but believe me when I tell you – the more you practise this exercise, like a bodybuilders muscles, the stronger your mind will become.
So – where are you right now? Are you a Mental Power Lifter or a Mental Weakling?
Mental strength does not require pain, sweat, or expensive gym memberships. It requires the ability to make a pact with yourself to carry out an action daily, no matter what obstacle appears to be in the way.
You must become tenacious, to become dedicated in your goal to take just 5 minutes a day for yourself. Set your alarm clock, set your cell or mobile phone with a reminder – just do it.
I’m reminded of a scene I did a few years ago in the movie “The Wolfman”. Not a great movie, but I got to meet one of my favourite actors (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and earned enough money to see me through a long winter.
The scene I refer to saw me doubling for actor Hugo Weaving, probably best known for his role as Agent Smith in the Matrix movies.
Toward the end of the movie, his character arrives at the manor house to confront the wolfman. A gun shot misses, which sees the wolfman leap onto myself and actress Emily Blunt.
The Wolfman then bites me hard on the shoulder, throwing me across the room, through a line of fire, and into a wall, containing a rack of antique spears. I pick one up and throw it at the Wolfman. At this point, actor Hugo Weaving takes over, and the scene continues.
I mention this because it illustrates the extremes of tenacity. You see, I had to practise this scene when the cast and crew had left the stage at Pinewood Studios for the evening. I stayed behind with the stunt riggers, to set up what is known in the stunt world as a ‘wire gag’.
A compressed gas cylinder is charged behind the set, and connected to a long wire, which travels via pulleys around the set, through the wall containing the spear rack, and over to the humble stuntman, where it’s connected to a harness worn under the costume. For this stunt, to make it even more interesting, the powers that be opted to wrap the wire around my body once as well.
This meant that as the cylinder was ‘released’, the cable would be pulled hard, launching me into the air with a spin, before pulling me hard to the ground with enough momentum to send me sliding across the polished floor and into the spear rack.
We started with mats on the floor, but they stopped me sliding, so they had to come out. I wore body pads, but after several hard impacts, the novelty quickly wore off I assure you!
The pressure in the system had to increase because I wasn’t sliding far enough, but as the pressure increased, so did my impact with the floor. On one test, despite placing my chin on my chest, my skull snapped back hard and hit the floor. I wanted to call it a day, but with the shot scheduled for early the next morning, that was a luxury I just couldn’t afford that night.
Instead I had to pick myself off the floor, wait for the stars circling my head to settle, and then clip myself back onto the wire, knowing the pressure had been increased. The next impact was harder, it hurt, and this time send me crashing head first through some furniture on set.
With bumps forming on my head, I wrapped protective padding around any sharp edges, moved furniture as best I could, and prepared for one last test.
This time the stunt worked well – I span, I hit the floor extremely hard, went sliding over the hall and into the wall hard. It really hurt.
The pressure in the cylinder was noted, the start and stop positions on the wire were marked and recorded, and I was released to return to my hotel to lick my wounds.
It is difficult to put into words the immense trepidation I experienced that night, returning to my hotel knowing I had to perform that stunt the next morning in full costume, and knowing I’d likely have to repeat it more than once. Not only that, but I’d also have to contend with a 7ft actor in a wolf costume, a room full of smoke, a blazing floor, and a real rack of break-away spears!
The rigging tests hurt. Yet, I would have to go through with the stunt - everyone was relying on me to pull this off, it was expected of me.
After a restless night, I awoke with a little dread. It was one of the few days I didn’t want to go to work – I leaped out of bed with all the grace of a 120 year old man covered in quick drying cement. Groaning with stiffness, and unable to turn my head to look around me, I packed my equipment and headed to the studio.
By the time I arrived on set that morning, I really didn’t want to do the stunt. The goal posts had moved, furniture had been added, more fire introduced, now having to slide through the actual flames on my way to the wall. A spear had been marked with a feather, and I was now required to smash hard into a rack of spears, find the only spear with a feather (through fire and smoke) and jump up to throw that spear at the wolf. No pressure then!
So what has this got to do with mind set? With mental strength? Well, let me tell you.
You have to be mentally strong to be able to walk across the studio floor in front of an entire film crew and clip into the wire that caused you so much discomfort the night before.
I needed greater strength when I was asked by the director to perform the stunt as a rehearsal for camera, so they could decide how to film it!
I did the stunt, spinning, bouncing, sliding through fire and impacting the wall, and remained in my ‘end position’ while cameras moved and measurements were taken. It took a lot of mental strength to peel myself off the floor to do that again, so they could record this time for the movie.
To make it more interesting, I saw the coordinator talking to the man operating the compressed gas cylinder. I couldn’t hear him, but his body language seemed to be asking for more pressure. The riggers body language seemed to be asking “Are you sure?”.
The actual ‘take’ was intense. A harder, faster spin, an impact with the floor that winded me, and an impact with the wall of spears that made me see stars.
Can I just say at this point that I’m not ‘as mad as a hatter’, despite what you might think reading this piece. Nor am I an ‘adrenaline junkie’. I’m actually an intelligent guy, with MENSA recording my IQ in the top 2% of the country.
I should also say that I’m not ‘macho’ either. Far from it.
When I heard the words that every stuntman fears, “We’re going again, reset for another take”, all I had to draw from, was unadulterated mental strength.
It’s a mental strength that knew it was for one last take. That fought to find positives, like the fact that I’d done the stunt twice that day already and that my muscle memory was going to make it easier for me. That I was going to give 110% to make this stunt the best that it could be.
As I stood in my ‘Number One’ position, I heard the coordinator on the radio, speaking to the cylinder operator. He asked for 25% more power. The operator challenged the request, and the coordinator insisted.
I’m sure the operator did me a favour that day, and increased the pressure by only 10%, otherwise I’d have gone through the wall!
As it happens, I ended up with my face planted so hard into the set wall, that I couldn’t eat solid food for a week, because my jaw wouldn’t open more than the diameter of a drinking straw!
This is one of the few times I’d found myself in such a predicament – I don’t usually get hurt. Indeed, I pride myself on having never broken a bone in my long, risk filled career.
I had bumps and bruises that day, but left with a surety that my mental strength was as powerful as ever. What else makes a person scrape themselves off the floor when they’re in pain, to go back and do something they know will hurt them again? Mental strength.
I’ve discovered over the last few years that this mental strength has helped me to achieve all of my dreams, however fanciful. Working in Hollywood movies, meeting iconic actors, breaking Guinness World Records, climbing high mountains, travelling the world, writing a book – I’ve achieved all of these things by doing ‘things in a certain way’. Anyone, including you, can achieve any dream, provided you do these things in a ‘certain way’.
I describe this ‘certain way’ in detail in my book “Seven Paths to Freedom” – and the key to living this certain way, is mental strength. Repetition, like curling dumbbells in the gym, increases strength and creates permanent neural pathways that work to attract everything you need to achieve your dreams. Work out your mind. Create the perfect life.
Are you a Mental Power Lifter or a Mental Weakling? Be the Mental Power Lifter – start practising your 5 minute visualisations today.
Some people will read this blog and consider following my advice one day. Others will close their eyes and try to imagine the future they desire, right away. The former will, perhaps, never quite get around to living that perfect life. The latter will be taking the first step toward an amazing life. All they have to do now is the same thing tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.
Which will you be? How much do you want that better life?
Wishing You Great Success